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Why You Shouldn't Ignore Ball-of-Foot Pain

Why You Shouldn't Ignore Ball-of-Foot Pain

Pain is a signal your body uses to let you know something’s not right. When the pain occurs in the ball of your foot between your third and fourth toes, you may be tempted to try to walk it off, but you shouldn’t.

The pain could be a sign of a larger problem with the structure of your foot known as Morton’s neuroma.

At Florida Foot & Ankle, podiatrist Dr. Mark A. Matey and his team diagnose and treat Morton’s neuroma at our offices in Jacksonville, Florida. Fortunately, there are conservative treatment options to relieve your pain and get you back to enjoying your life. 

Here’s why you shouldn’t ignore the problem.

What is Morton’s neuroma?

Morton’s neuroma is a condition that affects the ball of your foot between the long metatarsal bones and the phalanges (toe bones). If the nerve that runs between the bones swells and becomes inflamed, you feel it on the bottom of your foot, between your third and fourth toes. The pain from the neuroma can make it difficult to walk.

The most common reason for the development of Morton’s neuroma is wearing the wrong shoes — specifically high heels with a narrow toe box. The pressure on the toes from lack of room and an unnatural angle compresses the nerve, leading to inflammation and irritation.

The use of the term “neuroma” is actually somewhat misleading; neuromas are noncancerous tumors that form from extra nerve tissue that grows on nerves throughout the body.

But in the case of Morton’s neuroma, there’s no extra tissue growth and no tumor. Instead, it’s the tissue surrounding the nerve that becomes inflamed and grows.

Morton’s neuroma is a common condition, with about 1 in 3 people affected. Women are 8-10 times more likely to develop it than men, mostly because they tend to wear high heels and other constricting shoes.

Morton’s neuroma symptoms

If you look at your foot, you probably won’t see any signs of the neuroma — no tumor, no lump. But there may be some swelling between the third and fourth (or sometimes second and third) toes. 

You’re also likely to feel some pain, though it generally starts slowly. If you’re in the early stages, you can often relieve the pain by massaging your foot.

Symptoms include:

Symptoms generally get worse over time, which is why you shouldn’t ignore them, but seek treatment instead.

Treating Morton’s neuroma

Dr. Matey can generally diagnose Morton’s neuroma based on your symptoms, a physical exam, and imaging tests. While X-rays don’t show the presence of a neuroma, they can help rule out other potential causes (e.g., stress fracture or arthritis), and an ultrasound or MRI can confirm the diagnosis.

We may also perform an electromyography, a test that measures the electrical activity of your nerves and muscles. It rules out conditions that can cause symptoms similar to those of Morton’s neuroma.

Once he confirms the diagnosis, Dr. Matey recommends a treatment plan based on the degree of your symptoms and the nerve’s involvement. If the neuroma’s in its early stages, Dr. Matey can successfully treat it using conservative options, including:

Orthotics are another, widely used, noninvasive option to help relieve your symptoms. They’re custom-made shoe inserts that take the pressure off the painful nerve. You can also use metatarsal pads to offload the stress on the painful ball of your foot.

If conservative treatments haven’t worked, Dr. Matey may recommend surgery. The most common procedure is a neurectomy, during which he removes part of the nerve tissue. Or he may choose radiofrequency ablation, during which he heats and deactivates the nerve, alleviating the pain.

If you’re struggling with pain in the ball of your foot, don’t ignore it. At Florida Foot & Ankle, we can help. To get started, give us a call at 904-268-3686, or book a consultation online today with one of our two Jacksonville, Florida, locations.

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